When U.S. President Donald Trump was asked whether he would take harmful info about a political opponent from a country such as Russia or China — or if he’d report it to the FBI — he said, “I think maybe you do both.”
“I think you might want to listen; there isn’t anything wrong with listening,” he told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday.
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Ellen Weintraub, chair of the U.S. Federal Election Commission (FEC), had a strong response to the president’s comments: “Let me make something 100 per cent clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: it is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.”
Weintraub, a Democrat who has served as a commissioner of the FEC since 2002, issued her statement one day after Trump made his comments to ABC News.
“I would not have thought I needed to say this,” she tweeted.
Her statement went on: “This is not a novel concept. Electoral intervention from foreign governments has been considered unacceptable since the beginnings of our nation.
“Our Founding Fathers sounded the alarm about ‘foreign interference, intrigue, and influence.’ They knew that when foreign governments seek to influence American politics, it is always to advance their own interests, not America’s.’
Weintraub warned that anyone who “solicits or accepts” foreign help risks “being on the wrong end of a federal investigation.”
She concluded, “any political campaign that receives an offer of a prohibited donation from a foreign source should report that offer to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
In his interview with Stephanopoulos, Trump resisted the idea that a candidate would inform the FBI when offered information in an election.
“Somebody comes up and says, ‘hey, I have information on your opponent,’ do you call the FBI?” the president told him.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI. You throw someone out of your office, you do whatever you do.”
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The laws against contributions and donations by foreign nationals are laid out in the U.S. Code.
They state explicitly that it is unlawful for a foreign national to “directly or indirectly” make a contribution or a promise of one in connection with an election.
It’s also illegal for any candidates to “solicit, accept or receive” such contributions.
— With files from Hannah Jackson